Education Letter to the Editor


October 08, 2003 13 min read
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IQ Study May Justify The Cost of Head Start

To the Editor:

With regard to psychologist Eric Turkheimer’s study of early intervention with children born into extreme poverty (“IQ Study Weighs Genes, Environment,” Sept. 10. 2003), Krista Kafer of the Heritage Foundation reveals a common misconception of the Head Start program by comparing it to a “school choice” option for low-income families. This comparison assumes that Head Start is simply another parental option for low-income parents in schooling their children.

Head Start, rightly perceived, is an early- intervention program designed specifically to enrich the extreme-poverty environments described in Eric Turkheimer’s study. Head Start is a child- development and family-service program for the most needy families with prenatal-to-age-5 children that brings the parent into the classroom and takes the classroom into the home. Head Start provides parent education, family- literacy services, health services, nutritious meals and nutrition education, and home visits, as well as a rich preschool educational experience all parents want for their children.

It is not “too much of a leap” to use the new research to justify spending on Head Start. Rather, Head Start’s research- based, targeted, and prescriptive program is the nation’s best shot at ensuring that the phrase “no child left behind” becomes a reality, not just a slogan. Mr. Turkheimer’s study is most timely and welcome, and should be read and evaluated carefully for implications with regard to the future of Head Start and other high-quality, targeted programs for this population of children and families.

Kay C. Floyd
Oklahoma Head Start
State Collaboration Office
Oklahoma Association of
Community Action Agencies
Oklahoma City, Okla.

Ducking Responsibility For Safe-Schools Count?

To the Editor:

I read with interest your story about 44 states and the District of Columbia reporting that they have no “persistently dangerous” schools (“States Report Few Schools as Dangerous,” Sept. 24, 2003). While the final tally of states making this questionable claim was not surprising to most established school-safety specialists, the response by the U.S. Department of Education’s office of safe and drug-free schools was both perplexing and pathetic.

When asked about the low number of schools reported as persistently dangerous, William Modzeleski, the associate deputy undersecretary in charge of the office, reportedly said that this is not a federal standard and that it is not up to the federal government to judge state definitions of “persistently dangerous.” He also claimed that it is up to state residents to call upon state policymakers to change lax definitions, and added that the number of schools on the list is “sort of a secondary issue” because states now know they have to ensure that school environments are safe.

Mr. Modzeleski apparently forgot that the persistently-dangerous- school reporting is a component of the No Child Left Behind Act, a federal law. The implementation of this law is overseen by the Education Department, Mr. Modzeleski’s federal agency. While the requirement to determine what are persistently dangerous schools may not fit Mr. Modzeleski’s definition of a federal standard, the task is certainly a federal mandate enforced by a federal agency. He cannot summarily dismiss his office’s role in and association with what has unquestionably become a meaningless component of the No Child Left Behind legislation.

Mr. Modzeleski’s assertion that the small number of schools identified as persistently dangerous is a “secondary issue” is shockingly pathetic. His assertion that the issue be addressed by state residents, who have minimal to no roles in state-led efforts to define persistently dangerous schools, is equally absurd. The intention of the law has clearly been lost in the politics of implementation nationwide, apparently an irrelevant point to the Education Department.

A 2003 survey of over 725 school-based police officers for the National Association of School Resource Officers found over 87 percent of school officers reporting that the number of crimes occurring on school campuses nationwide is underreported. Over 61 percent of the officers said that the requirement for states to identify “persistently dangerous” schools would result in further decreased school crime reporting. And more than 88 percent said that Congress should enact a law requiring mandatory, consistent school crime reporting by K-12 schools nationwide.

It is both ironic and discouraging that a ranking Education Department administrator responsible for the nation’s safe and drug- free schools policy appears to focus on ducking, dodging, and dismissing the significance of the bungled nationwide implementation of a federal law. At a time when William Modzeleski’s department is quick to lead the call for accountability in academics, it appears as though he simultaneously prefers to shy away from correcting flawed legislation intended to hold schools accountable for safety.

Congress should step to the plate and take the leadership role that department apparently refuses to take. If Congress does not move swiftly and meaningfully, the safety of America’s schools will be once again left behind.

Kenneth S. Trump
National School Safety and
Security Services
Cleveland, Ohio

Ala. Tax Vote Invites Fiscal, Labor Reform

To the Editor:

In response to your article about Alabama’s rejection of its governor’s tax plan (“Alabama Voters Reject Gov. Riley’s Tax Plan,” Sept. 17, 2003):

It is ironic that a state whose citizens so ardently embrace the myth of creationism would also inflict a social Darwinism on its poorest citizens that requires them to sink or swim in the state’s floundering economy and its underfunded public schools.

Alabama business interests have long benefited from tax-abatement giveaways and other business-as-usual policies, while regressive local-option sales taxes punish the low-income people who keep those businesses afloat with their low-wage, nonunion labor. Taxes and unions aren’t the answer to Alabama’s problems, but they are tools that go with the territory of fiscal and labor reform. With this rejection, Alabama has become fertile ground for such outside intrusions.

Alan Hull
Framingham, Mass.

Dropouts, ‘Pushouts,’ And Accountability

To the Editor:

Dare I laugh or cry over the apparent fraud that is the Houston Independent School District’s accountability scheme (“Houston Case Offers Lesson on Dropouts,” Sept. 24, 2003)? President Bush and U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige have modeled the federal No Child Left Behind Act on Houston’s “miracle,” which now seems to be a myth. America’s schoolchildren and teachers are suffering the consequences. It’s not merely data being manipulated, but people’s lives.

Under then-Gov. Bush, Texas school districts faced great pressure to raise test scores and lower dropout rates. You report that principals’ very jobs were at risk. So a strange policy evolved: Pushing low-achieving students out of the testing pool, thus effectively raising district scores. Hence, a new education entity—"pushed out” kids. In many cases, kids were held back. Rather than moving into the 10th grade and taking the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills, they were retained in the 9th grade. Or they were advised to leave school entirely. The clever “leaver codes” helped justify these travesties.

The 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education held that separate but equal education is unequal and illegal. The No Child Left Behind Act loudly proclaims failing test scores of children labeled by their ethnicity, socioeconomic condition, and disability. It thus creates a scapegoat category of children. A handful of ethnic minority or new immigrant children can fail the adequate-yearly-progress measure, causing an entire district to be labeled a failure. How does that play out on the school playground?

Secretary Paige’s attitude suggests a disconnect with reality. You report that during a September forum on the No Child Left Behind Act, he faced charges “that Houston’s data problems raise questions about the new federal law.” He said the solution is providing “adequate oversight on data quality wherever schools are held accountable for results.” But another article in this same issue (“Schools Trim Fiscal Fat, and Then Some,” Sept. 24, 2003) reports on drastic cuts in South Carolina’s largest school district. These cuts include teachers, administrators, guidance counselors, and “clerks who were going to help the district track student test data more carefully.” That district’s unmet needs are not unique.

Who will pay for the “adequate oversight on data quality” that Mr. Paige recommends? Will we devote scarce resources to monitoring data or to educating students? Shall we blame struggling students for the failure of their schools? Once pushed out, what becomes of kids? What kind of policy punishes the children for being left behind?

Betty Raskoff Kazmin
Board of Education Member
Willard, Ohio

Give Underage Drinking Priority in Drug Fight

To the Editor:

Two articles in your Sept. 17, 2003 issue, ““Student Drug Testing Gathers Prominent Support” and “Report Calls On Nation to Tackle Teenage Alcohol Abuse,” should have been printed side by side.

John P. Walters, the Bush administration’s “drug czar,” says that he is concerned about the disease of drug addiction and the health of young people. Why, then, is he asking for another $8 million to test students for illegal drugs, when the federal government already spends 25 times more on preventing illegal drug use by the young than on preventing underage drinking? Underage drinking affects many more of the nation’s youths than do tobacco or illicit drugs.

Legal or not, alcohol is a drug, and the social costs of illegal drinking are more than $50 billion a year. Focusing on the drug used by the majority of young people should be a higher priority than testing students for drugs used by the minority.

Jill Goldesberry
Conesville, Iowa

Pride Motivates, Creativity Inspires

To the Editor:

In his bleak analysis of the harmful effects of paying teachers on the basis of student performance (“The Folly of Merit Pay,” Commentary, Sept. 17, 2003), Alfie Kohn can take heart in one respect only. The discredited model that is once again being trotted out to justify the proposal he opposes in schools is surprisingly under attack in business as well.

In his recent book Why Pride Matters More Than Money, Jon R. Katzenbach reveals what motivates employees and what doesn’t. A former senior partner and director of McKinsey and Co., a white-shoe consulting firm, Mr. Katzenbach draws on hundreds of interviews and his 40 years of experience in the field to conclude that pride— not pay—is the ultimate carrot. The inner satisfaction of doing good work and having it acknowledged is what matters the most.

Teachers, even more so, are less interested in money. They don’t enter the profession for power, fame, or riches. They choose teaching to make a difference in the lives of young people. Their ultimate payoff comes in the form of the inner satisfaction they receive from reaching their students. Anything beyond that is a bonus.

Strange as it seems, teachers and employees may have more in common than originally meets the eye. If so, Alfie Kohn can rest easy.

Walt Gardner
Los Angeles, Calif.

To the Editor:

I’d like to add one more element to the strong case made by Alfie Kohn. It’s about measurement. It’s this: Teachers need the sweet “a-ha!” moment—not just for the children, but for themselves. This is one of the great satisfactions of being a teacher.

I visited a Title I school today where teachers are using a mandated, very scripted curriculum and not getting very good test-score results. Maybe the teachers would have felt better if the scores had been up, but test scores were not the only thing flat in their classrooms. The teaching experience itself had become flat.

Teachers are among the most creative people in the world. What they need is to be able to use at least some of that creativity. This is a reward that might nourish their teaching.

Kids are not the only ones who need to say, “I did it myself.” In many ways, teachers need that even more. While teachers cannot all be asked or expected to create great programs, they need to be able to get from the programs they use that sense of a personally rewarding “a-ha!” experience.

Dorothy Rich
Founder and President
Home and School Institute
Washington, D.C.

Rating the Teacher: Mixed Views on a Web Site Featuring Student Critiques

To the Editor:

That children are encouraged to enter online comments on the work of their teachers is absurd (“How’s Your Teacher? Rate Her Online,” Sept. 17, 2003). Anyone who would approve of this nonsense has subscribed to the educationally destructive notion that the immediate and quite probably reductionist view of unformed and uninformed kids has sufficient value to be displayed in the public forum. To approve of this violation of common sense is to give unwarranted credence to an addled, romantic view of children as pellucid conduits of experience in the classroom and elsewhere.

Kids should be heard, and those utterances should be interpreted by rational and authoritative adults. Some teachers whom many kids “love” are pandering incompetents. Some of the teachers that many kids “loathe” (at least temporarily while in a state of petulant resistance to quite reasonable but rigorous demands for work, attention, and productive conduct) are the most effective and, in the long run, most cherished in memory by many of those same children in their adulthoods.

Public assessment of schoolteachers by their students is a stupid, fatuous idea and act. (Never mind the slanderous pranks and malicious frauds, of which at least some kids are capable.) This is the considered opinion of a former high school principal who exercised the most rigorous supervision and evaluation of teachers possible in the public education universe.

John Burruto
Amherst, Mass.

To the Editor:

I just wanted to comment on the fact that your headline “How’s Your Teacher? Rate Her Online” uses the pronoun “her.” Why does a teacher have to be a woman? There are plenty of male teachers, and by choosing “her” you are ignoring advances that both women and men have made. It rolls back all the work we have done to avoid such generalizations.

Deirdre McCann
12th Grade Student
Bethesda, Md.

To the Editor:

Students may deserve a voice in their education, but this Web site isn’t the answer. If students are to have their say, it should occur within their own schools, where the results can be tabulated and relayed to their teachers.

Last July, the junior high school in Japan where I am a teacher did just that. Some of my scores were good and some were really bad, but the feedback did give me something to think about.

Putting this kind of rating system on a Web site, however, is not the answer. It’s just asking for trouble.

Daniel Droukis
Kitakyushu City, Japan

To the Editor:

People are collaborative, problem-solving creatures. The drive to succeed motivates people, so it makes perfect sense for teachers to embrace the Web site www.ratemyteachers.com as another way of assessing their instruction and classroom performance, by allowing students to express what they expect of their teachers and why. Student feedback should help teachers better serve all children.

Change is good, even when it hurts. Teaching is my life, and I see this avenue as another resource to better my teaching skills.

Diana Ming
New York, N.Y.

To the Editor:

As a college student and a soon- to-be teacher, I think the Web site www.ratemyteachers.com and its sibling site www.ratemyprofessors.com are great ideas. Often it is next to impossible for students to get informational advice on the educators who will be teaching them. For students in primary and secondary schools, the classes students attend are not as important as the quality of their teachers. I have personally seen classes fail or succeed because of who the teacher was.

As for those Web site visitors who behave in immature ways, I can assure you that those students looking for realistic comments will pass over mean-spirited statements, unless they see a definite pattern showing.

For the opponents of the site, I have two questions:

1. Isn’t this a prime example of freedom of speech, in an area where students get few chances to express themselves? and

2. What score did you get?

Kevin Fitton
Student Technical Assistant
School of Education
Northern Michigan University
Marquette, Mich.


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